Nick Srnicek -Accelerationism, Folk Politics, Beyond

6 responses to “Nick Srnicek -Accelerationism, Folk Politics, Beyond

  1. I’ve been on and off the Accelerationist fence for a long time – the manifesto always struck me as a technocratic hymn and a call for a Leninist-style vanguard that would swoop in and correct the wrongs of the various strands of resistance around the globe. This talk, however, is fantastic, and alleviates a lot of my misgivings on the Accelerationist program – what he’s describing here is very close to the technopolitics I’ve been trying to sketch out in my few, meager posts here. He understands capitalism for what it is today: a globally organized system of distribution, powered by a combination of finance economies in the core populations and the offshoring of labor pools to easily exploitable periphery populations. As the interviewer touches on, this is at once an organic evolution of technology in the capitalist paradigm and a tool to liquidate the worker’s potentials for political power. This latter point is locked into a firmly Marxist discourse, and the whole flexibilization of labor is what the Autonomia and the post-Autonomists saw as the site of revolutionary struggle. Hence the turn to flexible, networked modes of resistance – embodied in what Srnicek and Williams call ‘folk politics’ (a term I do have problems with). But as Brian Holmes wrote recently over at Nettimes, describing the missteps of the post-Autonomist journal Multitudes (of which he was a part):

    “Our central idea, drawn of course from the Italian Autonomists, was that
    living labor had imposed upon capital the conditions of a knowledge
    economy in which value was increasingly created outside the
    institutional frameworks of control. Therefore, these workers – who had
    after all built the Internet – could freely self-organize their
    resistance whenever either the corporations or the state sought to exert
    their declining power. The counter-globalization movement, we believed,
    could only grow. As for the Indignados and Occupy, they would obviously
    be victorious. I was never able to fully embrace this logic and after 2008 it seemed to
    me (but also to Maurizio Lazzarrato) to be frankly wrong. The reason was
    that it dramatically underestimated the forms of social control that had
    developed along with the new technological regime of the network
    society… What we largely failed to theorize at Multitudes was the outright
    violence of neoliberal capitalism, whether in the forms of imperial
    invasion, of rampant environmental destruction, of continuing racial
    exclusion, of mass unemployment, of predatory credit, or indeed, in the
    form of the omnipresent psychic violence that convinces people they are
    fulfilling their lifestyle operations by creatively celebrating an
    economy that is now overtly suicidal and headed directly for climate
    chaos accompanied by planetary civil war. The hidden negative forces of
    the contemporary dialectic are automation and the new international
    division of labor, both of which destroyed the former Western industrial
    working classes while promoting a small percentage of their sons and
    daughters to the new middle-management positions, which in my view
    include the so-called “creative industries,” whose major product is the
    manipulation of affect.”

    This violence, as he points out, the complimentary aspect of the whole process of automation. Even as it helps spread an incredible technological revolution to all corners of the earth, the liberatory possibilities contained therein are reterritorialized as a means cut the periphery or surplus from the core, eliminate the power for political mobilization, and regulate the poor or unemployed through an increasingly technocentric regime of discipline. This means that the Marxist ‘motor of history’, the proletariat, is stripped of any possibility. With the walls closing in thoughts of the future shrink, turning to reactionary ideologies, specters of the apocalypse, or simply bearing the daily grinding down. There is no stopping the train into the future, no return to Fordist modes of production and liberal-Keynesian international order. The only solution becomes, as Srnicek says here, is for the left to reclaim the future. This means reclaiming the technology that is assembling the future, overturning the social conditions that the machines are deployed. Can we repurpose a logistics network? Instead of eviscerating worker power, can automation and intermodality be transformed in a way that supersedes class? Can we take the exalted position of laboring and unsettle it from its pedestal?

    These questions sound utopian, but we can’t think utopian. But we do need to think at scale at the same time we think particularities. We also have to take into consideration the impact these technologies on the environment, and would continue to have if the act of divergent re-purposing was to take place. After all, the act of salvaging is nothing if it can’t be reformulated in a way to reflect the ecological needs of our time.

    • “flexible, networked modes of resistance” this always sounds good until one gets to asking how it might actually work in ways which are both effective and sustainable, coordination is hard to say the least when one is in direct daily contact with simple tasks and strict hierarchies. Interestingly the idea of erasing middle-managers is a big theme (yet to be well deployed) in neo-lib circles (was just at such a seminar the other day with local business leaders and some senior folks from StratCom) where they also preach some sort of ‘flat’ multi-team cooperative ventures tho without any substantial ideas as to how to operationalize them.

      • “this always sounds good until one gets to asking how it might actually work in ways which are both effective and sustainable…”

        Exactly! In many ways it’s the age-old confusion between tactics and strategies. In its inception, which emerged from the congealing of various strands of dissent from the 1960s-80s with the technological developments of the 1980s-90s, flexible resistance was always a matter of tactics; the question of strategy was classically built upon with the deeper horizon of just *what* world it was we were fighting for. As time went on, that horizon shrunk, and the flexibilizaton of tactics really emerged as the sole grounding for any radical movement. It is the true that more contemporary movements, by deploying themselves as a network, have contained within their structures a sort of vision of what the world should look like. But I think that discourse has over-privileged the whole network paradigm where these movements are concerned: the far more interesting aspect is the politicization of public space and the experimentation with how these spaces could be retooled for something completely different. Yet, of course, this politicization of space is frequently coupled with a flexible system that generates lags in essential task while also (contrary to their intended purpose) making it easier for police action to break the movement. This has been a consistent pattern from Wisconsin to the Arab Spring to OWS (I observed each of these developments first hand in NYC in 2011, but maybe that’s a story for another time). It begs the question, then, of how to move forward: it seems clear to me that a politicization, appropriation of public space is utterly essential, and this needs to be taken much further than the whole “take the square!” approach, but what use do we make of the network form? Vanguards are counter-productive. We don’t want any more dialogues of Masters (that’s aimed at you, Zizek). And we certainly can’t rely on the traditional political systems, professional activist outfits (which are usually aligned with the mainstream political parties, albeit in partially obscured ways) and the trade union combines. Part of this question is still the void I see in Srnicek and William’s program, though it seems they are moving in an interesting direction: who or what does the ‘accelerating’?

        Per you latter point, there’s a couple of excellent works that cover just these sort of developments – the growth of the networked firm, if you will. One is Art Kleiner’s “The Age of Heretics”, a historical study of the flattening of corporate hierarchies and bureaucracies and their transformation into flexible, team-oriented environments. The other, coming from a more post-Situationist left trajectory (there’s a murky relationship to Tiqqun, though this is more academic and less a toolbox for intransigence), is sociologists Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s “The New Spirit of Capitalism”. Both works would be essential in generating a general theory of the hyperfast network world.

    • I’d be interested in what you think of Dataclysm, Edmund. Why is Rudder so rudderless, so obviously sympathetic to the left, and yet so obviously owned by ownership?

      • Sadly, I’m not familiar enough with Rudder’s work to give a good answer! I do have a copy of Dataclysm that I simply haven’t gotten around to yet, but this is a good impetus to checking it out.

        • Read it. I think it’s scuttled my understanding of how the corporate/consumer relation is changing more than anything I’ve read–especially the control/desperation dynamic, the way the more these guys game our data for an edge, the more disempowered they take themselves to be. Manipulation as abjection.

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